Councilman Bob Rush has requested Mayor Gene Hobgood and each member of the City Council appoint one person older than 62 and another person younger than that to a committee charged to review issues concerning senior residents and city finances and recommend action the city should take.
Some of the issues Rush said the city need to consider involve its water department, enhancing fire protection, senior subsidies on trash services and senior exemptions on property taxes.
The committee would also be tasked with figuring out whether the city should consider raising its millage rate to make up for the property tax digest decline the city’s witnessed in the past few years.
Rush said he decided to appoint the committee because he hasn’t “seen this administration willing to make” decisions.
“We didn’t raise our water rates until our backs were against the wall,” he said, referring to the city’s reluctance last year to raise the rates after a consultant informed the city it should do so.
On the utilities side, the committee could deliberate on whether the city should sell its 25 percent stake in the Hickory Log Creek Reservoir and merge its water and sewer operations with the Cherokee County Water and Sewerage Authority.
On fire services, the committee could consider whether the city should work to maintain its Insurance Service Office rating of 4, work to increase its ISO rating to 3 or merge with Cherokee County Fire and Emergency Services.
With emergency services, Rush said seniors in the city make up about 35 percent of all EMS calls and that cost for those calls last year were more than $450,000.
To help make up the difference, Rush said the committee could also consider reducing its millage rate by 2.8 mills and implementing a citywide fire tax to broaden the burden to all residents.
When it comes to subsidies for seniors, Rush also said the committee could debate the pros and cons on whether the city should increase its trash pick-up rates for seniors from $7.50 per month to $10 and whether it should reduce or eliminate the senior homestead exemption currently in place.
A senior in Canton who owns a home valued at $300,000, assessed at 40 percent, or $120,000, would have the $112,000 homestead exemption applied, which would leave the property with $8,000 that can be taxed.
The city then calculates the taxable portion with its 6.80 millage rate, resulting in the homeowner having a $54 tax bill.
Due to the overwhelming drop in assessed value, some homeowners end up paying no property taxes.
The issue of the fairness of property tax exemptions for senior citizens in Canton came to a head earlier this year when Councilman Bill Bryan encouraged the city to consider doing away with the exemption.
Bryan’s suggestion was met with opposition by the council as well as many senior citizens in the city.
Some council members were warm to Rush’s idea of appointing a committee.
However, Mayor Gene Hobgood said he’s had enough input on the senior property tax exemption.
“I know what they want,” he said.
Hobgood in the past has said he’s opposed to decreasing or eliminating the exemption altogether.
Bryan added he thought the proposal was a “good idea.”
Councilman John Beresford, who said he didn’t have a problem with having outside input, also said the council is “elected to make decisions.”
Councilman Hooky Huffman agreed, saying he hate to see the council use the committee to delay action on these items.
“We need to look at these things and take action fast,” he said, adding he didn’t like the “inefficiency of the use of time.”